The Summer Track Series and China Grove

A big crowd gathers at the start of the 1600 in Tuesday's Summer Track Series (photo courtesy of Christi Carter).

You’re in luck gang.  Today, for one day only, we at Allen’s Road to Boston are offering 3 race recaps for the price of one.  I’ll even throw in a restaurant critique, free of charge.

Quickly, restaurant critique.  Right now, I’m in Donatos in Huntersville.  After a long run in Davidson this morning with Sarah, Emily (Barrett, of Charlotte Running Club social director fame), Chris “Coach” Spano, Adam Mayes, Kevin, and Dean, I was in a major calorie deficit and badly craving pizza.  I feebly attempted to find someone to go to lunch with me at Mellow Mushroom.  When the first, and only, person I contacted had other plans, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs took over and I gave up on socializing and the Mellow Mushroom dream and got down to the very serious business of finding pizza nearby.

Lake Norman Pizza didn’t answer their phone (again!  I’m done with you LKN Pizza!)  Fuel Pizza is a tad too pricey.  So here I sit at Donatos, piggy-backing off next door neighbor Panera’s WiFi.  Since the small pizza is about the size of a nickel, I was forced to go stromboli instead and it was bad, very bad.  I’ve had better Hot Pockets.  When they charged me $4 for the stromboli plus $1.59 for a drink even though the sign clearly stated $5 Stromboli Combo, I was officially done with Donatos too – 2 thumbs down, way down.  Now I’m going to sit here and drink their Diet Coke fountain dry as a measure of revenge.  Take that Donatos.

There ya go.  Restaurant critique, free of charge.  Now let’s get back to the business of this blog – running.

The Summer Track Series

1600

Tuesday night, I made my way from work to Myers Park High School for a little track fun.  I’m well aware that this isn’t the wisest course of action – racing track events a few days after one 5K race (King Tiger) and only a few days before another (China Grove), especially while still nursing a nagging Achilles, but this meet is just so much fun, I couldn’t resist.

I pulled into the parking lot and spotted a bunch of the usual suspects – Jamaar Valentine, Thomas Eggar, Michelle Hazelton, Christi Carter, Stan and Jinnie Austin, and more.  And within minutes, more showed up, including Boriana, The Crockfords, Bill Shires, Clayton, and even a rare appearance by Leonard.

I paid my $8 entry form and pinned my bib on.  Soon, the big guns started rolling in – Paul, Jay, and Aaron.  Ben Hovis was there volunteering and jokingly offered to shave a few seconds off my time, if the price was right.  I made the right decision showing up – this was going to be fun.

Jamaar and I warmed up on the infield and were soon joined by a host of others.  Before I knew it, I was lining up for the mile and the starter fired the gun.

My goal was to break 5:30 and I tried to lock into pace, which wasn’t easy early.  There was a big crowd running, about 30 folks, so I spent most of the first quarter trying to avoid collisions.  But we strung out pretty quickly as I clicked off 82 second quarters.

This race is mostly a blur, especially since my memory is  horrible and it was nearly a week ago.  I don’t recall much about who I passed or who passed me, until the final stretch.  I faded a tad on lap 4 and knew I had to kick if I was to break 5:30.  I sprinted, passing Michelle in the process.  I knew my time  was close to my goal, but wasn’t sure how close (I left my Garmin at home) until the results were posted later.   I found out that I had run exactly 5:30 .  Bill posted a video of the mile here.  Next time I think I’ll latch onto Bill for as long as I can so I can get in a video.

3200

Locking in behind Chad at the gun. Aaron, in front, is preoccupied with Paul right out of the gate (photo courtesy of Christi Carter).

This was my distance in high school and I have a fondness for it to this day.  It was the first (and last, for that matter) distance I ever raced in high school.

A few minutes before the start, Chad and I warmed up.  He had already run hard 1600 and 800 events, so he was looking to back off a little in the 3200.  He asked me my plan and I told him the goal was to break 12:00.  He offered to pace me and I took him up on it.  Leonard decided to join our 12-minute crew of two and make it a 3-man effort.

The starting gun was fired and I tucked in behind Chad.  A fourth joined us early, a man who either is on my Hood to Coast team or was on Coach Spano’s team in the past, a man I know only as Curly for reasons that will become clearer shortly.

Chad took us through in exactly 1:30 so I called out, “Chad, dead on.  Thanks!”  Then he took us through lap 2 in 3:00.  And so on.  It turns out that Mr. Crockford is a masterful pacer.

At some point early on, I’m not exactly sure, Curly decided the pace was too slow and pulled ahead.  I felt quite comfortable through the first mile, like I could maintain this pace all day.  Mike Moran, winner of the mile and soon to be my Hood to Coast teammate, seized upon this opportunity to practice Hood to Coast team tactics.  “Tracker, I need you to pick up 2 roadkills!”  That’s Hood-to-Coast-ease for, “Allen, pass 2 people.”

Leonard keeps Chad company while I lag behind (photo courtesy of Christi Carter).

But something odd happened.  Around lap 6 or so, the leaders closed in and getting lapped was imminent.  Last year, Paul snuck up and lapped me so quickly that I didn’t realize he was on me until it was too late so he had to pass me in lane 2.  I felt horrible as I remembered my high school days, back when I was the lapper instead of the lappee, and I used to get furious when I would lap someone and they didn’t get out of the way.  (Welcome to a little thing called Karma, Allen.)  This year I vowed to get out of the way so I paid close attention to where the leaders were on the track.

As Paul approached, I moved into lane 2 and cheered for him as he went by.  I repeated when Aaron passed.  Then again with Jay.

After the lappings were complete, I found it difficult to lock back into rhythm behind Chad and Leonard.  Suddenly, they were gapping me and I struggled to stay in contact.  Ben yelled at me from the infield, “You’re tightening up.  Relax.  Stay with those guys.”   But they continued to pull away as we neared the finish.

Running the last lap with a mere 200 meters or so to go, Stan passed me.  I’ve never beaten Stan before and I knew this was probably my best shot ever.  I told myself, “You’ve only got 200 to go.  Suck it up.  Stay with him and kick in the final hundred.”  Ben echoed what I was already thinking when he yelled, “Come on Allen, out kick Stan!”  I matched Stan’s pace and stayed within striking distance as we made the final turn.

On the backstretch, I took off.  I glanced up at the clock and saw that 12:00 was rapidly approaching.  I sprinted past Stan.  I edged out Stan, but not 12:00.  I ran a 12:01.  (In Stan’s defense, he ran a second mile heat and the 800 prior to the 3200, so my victory over him was tainted.)

After the meet, I told Leonard and Chad that I’d cool down with them.  But Thomas and Michelle offered refreshments from their car so I opted to hang out with them, Matt Jaskot, and BMac (Brian McMahon) instead.  I felt guilty about this, especially as Chad had been so kind to offer to pace, and had done so brilliantly, but I was exhausted and standing around in the parking lot seemed infinitely more doable than putting in a few more miles.

China Grove 5K

Leonard rubs his eye and tries to wake up, the dark apparently lulling him to sleep. I appear to be the only guy who spotted the camera man as I raise both arms and point. (photo courtesy of Daryl Brewton, darylbrewton.com)

A mere 3 days later, on Friday night, came the China Grove 5K.  This is one of my favorite local races and I was looking forward to it, despite the fact that I was still a little tight/sore from Tuesday (and/or from relatively tough runs – for me anyway – with Nathan on Wednesday and Thursday).

I pulled into China Grove around 8:00 on Friday night, just as a thunderstorm seemed to be rolling in as well.  Ominous black clouds loomed overhead and serious winds whipped through downtown.  A banner stretching across Main Street and advertising the race was ripped to shreds in a manner of minutes by the powerful wind.  I was concerned that the race might not take place.  But Todd (Spears), my buddy and amateur weather expert, assured me via text messages that the storm would blow over quickly.  And, as usual, he was right.

The stoic Charlotte Running Club crew puts on their game faces as they get serious just prior to the start.

I jogged down and picked up my packet.  I ran into Théoden,  and then the Charlotte Running Club crew (Alice, Lat, Matt, Jay, Lauren (who was not running – I’m guessing she took the above picture that I snagged off Facebook), Caitlin, and Boriana).  TJ and I warmed up as Leonard yelled at us from his car when he pulled into town.  Then I warmed up again when I ran into the other 2 members of the PMT 3 Amigos, Dean and Todd (aka, the Weather Man).  It took me nearly 4 miles of slow jogging before the legs finally started to feel okay.

Finally, with the storm having blown past just as Todd predicted, we lined up at the start.  When some China Grove pastor finished his prayer/stand-up comedy routine, the race director signaled the start and we bolted down Main Street.

There were hordes of folks in front of me but I forced myself to ignore them as I tried to lock into 6-minute pace.  I passed a few familiar faces in the first mile, including Jim Crotts and Boriana.  I came through the first mile, comfortably, in 5:58.

I told myself, “Perfect.  Lock in and hang on.”  As I neared the turnaround at the halfway point on this out-and-back course, I spotted the leaders coming my way.  Fellow Charlotte Running Club member, and Myrtle Beach Half Marathon winner, John Compton, held the lead.  I wanted to cheer for him but I felt like I couldn’t muster up enough oxygen.  Then various other fast CRC members came barreling by – Bob Marchinko, Jay, Caitlin, Lat, Alice, Leonard, and Matt.

Archrival (yes, I have lots of them and usually at least 1 in every race) Boriana and I exchanged places a couple of times throughout the race.  Somewhere around mile 2, I surged past her.  Then I spotted a guy in a DART (Davidson Area Running Team) singlet up ahead and made a concerted effort to reel him in.  I didn’t recognize him and I wondered who he was (results reveal he’s Jeremy Alsop).  I struggled to surge past and somehow managed.

I was fading fast so I tried to focus on cadence.  I quit looking at my watch and just tried to listen to the rhythm of my feet pounding the pavement.  Some guy passed me and he looked like he might be in my age group so I locked onto him and took some deep breaths, trying to gather myself to get ready to kick.  As I neared the 3-mile mark, there stood Ben again, just like Tuesday, and he screamed, “Kick Allen, just like you did against Stan!  Kick!  Go!”  So I did, and I outkicked the guy.  Thanks again Ben.

I officially finished in 19:04.  Check out this video from CRC member Mike Beigay – if you look closely, you can spot me, then Boriana close behind, at the 4:19 mark.

Finally, with the painful part over, it was time for the fun stuff.  Krispy Kreme doughnuts.  Cheerwine.  Pizza Hut pizza.  The only better local post-race, in my opinion, is the Hickory Charity Chase Half Marathon.  But there you have to go through the hell of a hot, hilly half before you can partake in the festivities.

I rehashed the race with friends.  Dean and I ran a desperately needed cool-down.  Then a slew of Charlotte Running Club folks received their awards – John Compton, 3rd overall male (imagine running a 14:50 and coming in 3rd – madness!)  Caitlin won the women’s race while Alice came in second.  Leonard was second overall master.  Bob, Jay, Lat, and Boriana all won age group awards.  I was grateful to accept a second place 40-44 age group award.

So that’s it.  The Achilles is, obviously, much better (it seems to only hurt in the mornings now, when I first step out of bed) and didn’t bother me at all in any of the week’s 3 races.  Next up, Summer Breeze, as I continue to race toward Boston.

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